Every year in the United States, more than 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer; approximately 600,000 people perish from it. For decades now, radiation and chemotherapy have been the go-to methods for treating cancer, but they woefully miss the mark much of the time. Today, advances in our understanding of human genetics are changing the way in which we diagnose and treat various forms of cancer. In addition to the thousands of doctors, geneticists and other researchers who devote themselves to finding effective new treatments, visionaries like Dr. Clay B. Siegall work ceaselessly to fund companies that push the boundaries of today’s cancer treatments.
Cancer testing is much in the news these days, with England’s chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, recently directing the National Health Service to start offering DNA tests to cancer patients so that they can more easily identify effective treatments. Through the use of whole genome sequencing, or WGS, errors in patients’ genetic code can be revealed by comparing cancerous cells with normal ones. By identifying these errors, treatment can be more effectively customized to suit the specific needs of the patient. This testing has shown incredible promise, so it comes as no surprise that Dame Sally and others are fully behind it.
These are only early developments in what is sure to be a revolution in the way in which cancer is diagnosed and treated. Known as genomic medicine, this revolution involves tailoring care based on patients’ genetic code. It may be used for far more than just cancer treatment, but it has shown exceptional promise in that area. Dame Sally and others want whole genome sequencing to become as ubiquitous and normal as things like blood tests and tissue biopsies. Already, more than 31,000 NHS patients–including many who have been diagnosed with cancer–have had their genetic code sequenced.
There are approximately 20,000 genes in the human body. The vast majority start out and stay healthy. Some start out with errors that have been passed along by parents. However, it is much more common for previously healthy cells to develop errors later. These tiny errors, which may be detected through whole genome sequencing, can be warning flags for the future development of cancer and other conditions. Perhaps more importantly, in those who are already diagnosed with cancer, these tiny errors can be assessed to more effectively determine treatments that will actually work. Therefore, there is a lot less trial, error and expense.
In about two-thirds of cases, whole genome sequencing can improve the diagnosis and care of various conditions. In addition to identifying treatments that are more likely to be effective, it can reveal treatments that are unlikely to work. This is important because it means that a lot less time, effort and money are wasted in search of an effective treatment. When WGS reveals that a patient is unlikely to benefit from a specific drug, that drug can then be taken off the table, so to speak, allowing doctors to find more effective drugs.
Whole genome sequencing is just one of the many exciting advances that are transforming the way in which we diagnose and treat various types of cancer. In the Netherlands earlier this year, for example, researchers have identified a faster way to diagnose prostate cancer, which is one of the most lethal forms on cancer. Previously, it took months to come to an accurate diagnosis, as the patient first had to undergo an ultrasound and then wait while tissue samples were assessed in the lab. Now, an MRI can be used to detect changes in the prostate first. If any are found, additional tests can then be performed.
Over at University Hospital of Lyon in England, researchers recently developed a urine test that can predict the recurrence of bladder cancer on a very accurate basis. Results from the researchers’ testing were recently published in the British Journal of Cancer. Around 350 bladder cancer patients were given the test, which detects the presence of a faulty protein known as TERT. If the protein is detected, a recurrence is very likely. The test accurately predicts the recurrence around 80 percent of the time, which is a vast improvement over the 34-percent accuracy rate of the former gold standard: cytology testing.
When reading about developments like these in the news, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this progress is being spearheaded by thousands of dedicated scientists, doctors and researchers. It’s also easy to forget that this work and research depends on funding and all kinds of other factors, so many other players exist behind the scenes too. In particular, pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical firms are leading the charge in the fight against cancer. They attract some of the brightest and best minds, so they are continuously at the cutting edge of cancer research.
Dr. Clay B. Siegall, the founder, CEO and COB of Seattle Genetics, is one of the most recognizable names in the field of targeted cancer therapies. Since founding Seattle Genetics in 1998, Siegall has helped to transform the way in which we diagnose and treat cancer. His firm is credited with developing the first FDA-approved antibody drug conjugate, or ADC. Since then, ADCs have emerged as among the most promising methods in the treatment of cancer. With his association with ADC technology, Dr. Siegall has a strong reputation in the field.
Seattle Genetics benefits enormously from the input of Clay Siegall, who holds a bachelor of science in zoology from the University of Maryland and a PhD in genetics from George Washington University. In addition to his work with Seattle Genetics, Dr. Siegall serves on the boards of director of Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical, Mirna Therapeutics, Inc. and Alder Biopharmaceuticals. Previously, he held positions with the National Cancer Institute and at Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute. Today, Siegall continues to focus on the work that is being accomplished by Seattle Genetics, and he looks forward to seeing how these advances improve and change people’s lives in the years to come.